Kentucky Tonight hosted the second in a series of discussions about the 2022 midterm elections as Renee Shaw spoke with candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Congressional districts.
James Comer, 1st District Republican
James Comer is a native of Monroe County and a graduate of Western Kentucky University. In addition to running his family’s farming operation, Comer served 11 years as a state representative and four years as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture. In 2015, he made an unsuccessful bid for governor, and then was elected to Congress in 2016.
Democratic challenger Jimmy Ausbrooks, a mental health counselor from Franklin, did not meet KET’s criteria for participating in the program.
As ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Comer is poised to chair that panel should Republicans win control of Congress this fall. He says under his leadership, the committee, which has subpoena power, will focus on investigating national security threats as well as waste and fraud in government spending. He plans to examine security problems on the U.S.-Mexico border, the origins of COVID-19, and the actions of President Joe Biden’s brothers and his son, Hunter.
“We’re going to hold some very high-profile Biden-family influence-peddling investigations,” says Comer. “There’s some very serious crimes here and we’re certainly going to get to the bottom of it because I don’t believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Justice have been serious about trying to investigate this and hold anyone accountable.”
Comer says he wants to look into allegations Hunter and Jim Biden have acted as unregistered federal agents lobbying for foreign governments such as China, Russia, and Ukraine. He says he has whistleblowers poised to testify under oath about how family members allegedly profited from the Biden family name.
The Congressman says the committee will not investigate actions surrounding former President Donald Trump’s handling of government documents, or the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Comer says he was the only member of the Kentucky delegation on the House floor as rioters stormed the building. He describes the incident as a “rally that got out of hand.”
“It was a very traumatic experience,” says Comer. “It was a sad day in the history of America, and it should never happen again.”
The Republican contends “there were problems” with the 2020 presidential election, pointing to how states loosened absentee balloting laws to accommodate voters during the pandemic. He argues that those changes benefitted the Biden campaign, but he adds that he did vote to certify the presidential election results.
“Once the 50 states certified the election results, there was nothing Congress could do,” he says. “That was the shame of January 6 – there was nothing that was going to change the outcome of that election.”
Beyond his committee assignments and his efforts to eliminate what he calls wasteful spending and unneeded bureaucracies in the federal government, Comer says he will continue to focus on constituent services.
“Being a member of Congress isn’t just voting on bills, it’s also trying to help the people in your district,” he says.
Hank Linderman, 2nd District Democrat
Born in Florida, Hank Linderman finished high school in Louisville and worked as a musician and recording engineer in southern California before settling back in Kentucky in Grayson County. He was the Democratic nominee in the district’s Congressional races in 2018 and 2020.
Republican incumbent Brett Guthrie, who has served in Congress since 2009, did not respond to KET’s invitation to participate.
Linderman contends working Americans haven’t enjoyed their fair share of the nation’s prosperity for decades. He says that’s led to today’s younger generations feeling that their lives will not be better than those of their parents.
“Our government is in the control of the wealthiest – they elect most of our politicians,” he says. “The wealthiest don’t want to pay taxes, they don’t really want to pay wages, and they don’t want to provide a social safety net, and that is part of why our society feels so unstable, feels so uncertain right now.”
The Democrat says he wants to see renewed growth in labor unions, higher wages, safer workplaces, a national system of preschool and child care, and a health care system that doesn’t force people into bankruptcy over medical bills.
“My focus would always be how can we benefit working people,” he says. “How does this law that we’re talking about or how does this program we’re talking about, how is it actually going to help people on the ground in the 2nd district.”
To help Kentucky farmers, Linderman says he supports legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana. He wants to encourage production among small farming operations rather than large corporate growers. He says that would create a new cash crop that could make family farms financially viable.
The Democrat argues that immigration policy has been over-politicized and that both parties must move away from their extreme positions, saying that neither a completely open border nor a totally walled-off border will work. Linderman advocates for policies that would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants rather than jailing the workers themselves. He also wants a path to citizenship for immigrants who have been in the U.S. since before 2018.
“Millions and millions of these folks have been here for 10 and 15 years,” Linderman says. “They’re not newcomers, they’re our neighbors and so we should welcome them into our society.”
Climate change is one factor driving illegal immigration, according to Linderman. For example, he says Guatemalan farmers who can no longer survive on land they’ve tended for generations are streaming northward to the U.S. He also says Americans have a massive opportunity to move away from coal and reinvent manufacturing in ways that will make it cleaner and more efficient.
“We’re going to have to transition from one type of energy to another, but that doesn’t mean it has to be today,” he says. “We need to have an orderly transition, and we can do that in a way that’s helpful to the folks who work in these industries.”
Although Guthrie fended off Linderman’s 2018 and 2020 challenges by margins of more than two to one, the Democrat contends his party won’t be out of office forever. The last Democrat to represent Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional district was William Natcher, who died in office in 1994.
“There will be a Democrat once again in the 2nd district,” says Linderman. “I can’t say when it will be, but it will happen.”
Morgan McGarvey, 3rd District Democrat
Stuart Ray, 3rd District Republican
Morgan McGarvey graduated from the University of Missouri and the University of Kentucky College of Law. He was a staff member for former Congressman Ben Chandler. McGarvey was elected to the Kentucky State Senate in 2012 and became Minority Floor Leader in late 2018.
“I am going to stand up and fight for people, I’m going to stay true to my values, I’m going to work to get things done,” says McGarvey
Stuart Ray worked for his family’s steel company in Louisville before starting his own metals and trucking firm. He has served on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission board during Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, and on the KFC YUM! Center board during the administrations of Steve Beshear and Matt Bevin.
“Louisville’s been under 16 years of failed leadership federally at the Congress level,” says Ray. “I think everyone in Louisville realizes we need a change.”
As Jefferson County faces another year of potentially record high homicides, Ray says he would help secure funding for Louisville to hire up to 400 additional police officers. He also calls for installing metal detectors in schools.
“We have to harden school entrances,” says Ray, “to prevent guns and other paraphernalia from ever entering a public school or a private one.”
McGarvey argues that school security policies should be determined at the state and local levels. He contends that addressing crime must include dealing with the prevalence of firearms in the nation.
“There are some commonsense gun reform proposals we must do,” says McGarvey.
“We need universal background checks... We need to ban assault rifles. We need to make sure that 18-year-olds can’t buy assault-style rifles.”
On background checks, Ray says he supports making mental health issues a component of those reviews, but he says laws on patient privacy won’t allow that. The Republican says he is pro-Second Amendment and doesn’t know if he would have voted for the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which tightened several federal gun regulations.
McGarvey touts his work with Republic state Sen. Paul Hornback to introduce legislation that would create a mechanism for temporarily removing firearms from the possession of individuals deemed to be an imminent threat to themselves or others. He says the “epidemic of guns” poses a grave risk to children’s lives and community safety.
On the economy, McGarvey applauds the recent passage of the federal infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, which he says will bring prices down, reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and lower the deficit. He says he would also like to see passage of a federal gas-price gouging bill that has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition.
“What you’re seeing is one party who is passing bills and putting out proposals that help people every day in their lives,” says McGarvey, “and another party that is content to just say no and try to use it as an election-year wedge issue.”
Ray contends the $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act is another example of Democratic spending gone out of control. He also questions the need for 87,000 new Internal Revenue Service agents funded by the legislation. He argues the roughly $3 trillion the Biden Administration spent on pandemic relief and infrastructure projects is fueling record-high inflation. He says there is “all kinds of waste” that could be eliminated from the federal budget, including money for the Department of Education.
“I would pump the breaks on this unsustainable spending,” says Ray. “That in itself will help reduce inflation.”
On abortion, McGarvey says he will continue to lead the fight for access to reproductive health care. He says forcing a woman to carry an unviable fetus to term is wrong and cruel. Ray says he doubts he would vote for a federal ban on abortion, saying that issue should be decided by the states. But he adds that he supports exceptions for victims of rape and incest, and when the life of the mother is at stake.
On national security, Ray says Russia and China pose the greatest threats to the U.S. McGarvey points to threats to free and fair elections that he says are posed by former President Donald Trump and his allies.